Teams, motivation and change

A good perspective on teams, motivation and change in a recent article on InfoQ, posted by Urs Peter and summarising a keynote and book by Mark Lammers. Lammers is coach of the (six-times world champions) Netherlands women’s field hockey team. The book is not (yet?) translated, so its good to have these ideas summarised.

Lammers talks about eight principles which have guided his coaching. Read the post for the details: here are some thoughts that occurred to me.

One of the principles: “Only a different way of doing produces different results”. Gerry Weinberg (amongst others) pointed this out a long time ago - if you use the same recipe, you get the same bread. There’s a lot behind this innocent statement, and it bears repeating - if you want something different to happen, you have to change things. It’s not about trying harder, applying more effort, some how doing more of the same. Sometimes any change is better than the status quo, but there is great value in having alternatives - a repertoire of interventions to apply in a team, or in one’s personal practice.

A comment which is almost an aside, when talking about the importance of controllable challenges:

Before the start of a game I thought it was a good idea to motivate the team with phrases like: ‘we really need to win, otherwise we’re out’. The effect was rather the contrary, it did not help them to perform better … winning or losing is merely the result of the way we play … So instead of talking about winning or losing before a game we carefully repeat our strategy before a game as well as the personal things each player has to pay attention to [my emphasis]. That’s concrete and much [more] controllable.

Paying good attention to the right things - mindful performance - is what I spend a lot of time working on with teams I’m coaching, and (of course) many standard agile practices have this as their (explicit or implicit) end.

A sport team succeeds because its members - for many reasons - are passionate about being part of that team. Here of course the parallel with the world of work breaks down, which says a lot about the culture of the common workplace and the function of work in society. It’s a pity, because (as Joseph Pelrine says) working in a great team is an amazing and fulfilling experience. Great software teams can, of course, be found in large organisations, but they’re rare, because it’s in the nature of these teams to challenge the way they do things and the environment in which they work. Look to start-ups to find the place where the passion and energy of a competitive sport team are mirrored in business - but though the likes of Y-Combinator are starting to provide it, great coaching is scarce in this environment (and perhaps even scarcer in large organisations, with some enlightened exceptions).

And finally - these principles are all, as it were, common sense. I don’t think you’d find a coach or leader in any discipline arguing with them. So why aren’t all coaches great leaders, and all teams great teams?

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